C64 Review of Cauldron from Issue 1

ZzapTest Logo by Biggest Jim


Decent arcade adventures on the 64 are few and far between at the moment -- Cauldron attempts to expand this category. It is essentially an arcade game (combining platform and shoot-em-up elements) with adventure overtones. Six strange ingredients must be retrieved from the very bowels of the planet to form a spell. This spell must be used to dispose of the evil Pumpking.

You start in the witch's house surrounded by six parchments, one for each ingredient to be found. This is where the final spell is to be made, so everything must be brought back here -- 'juice of toad, eye of newt, wing of bat and Hemlock root, mouldy piece of splintered bone. . . .' -- doesn't sound too appetizing.

Out of the attractive cottage hobbles the witch, and then into the forest, depicted in detailed 2D. In order to collect the ingredients she must find four coloured keys, scattered around the planet, to open the doors to the underworld (see panel).

Collecting these keys is difficult. Your hag can walk a fair distance around the world, but mountain ranges, sea, and a graveyard, are impassable unless flown over. To take off on her broomstick, she must find a clearing. A quick push up on the joystick and she takes off slowly.

Flight control is very reminiscent of that arcade classic, Defender, with a large amount of inertia to take into account when you change directions -- this takes some getting used to.

On your travels you pass trees, bats, ghosts, and very aggressive plants spitting death. Shark fins and seagulls roam the seas, and volcanoes spout fireballs. Some of the nasties you can destroy by firing magic, but this only works when you're flying.

The four keys are placed randomly around the world, making the game slightly different every time you play. Once you've collected one, or all, of the keys, it's down into the darker depths of the globe to get the components for your spell.

The five doors lead to four separate caverns of platform action (one cavern has two doors). In each of the caverns you must negotiate various platforms and avoid the nasties floating around. These include some superbly defined skulls, pumpkins, rib cages, bats, and fireballs, all following predictable but awkward patterns.

Some of the ingredients can only be taken when carrying certain containers and, because you can only carry two ingredients at a time, you need to make several return journeys to the cottage. Once all the ingredients are collected and mixed, it's off to the Pumpking's lair (one of the caverns), to put the spell to good use.

You have eight hags, or lives, to attempt to achieve this feat, and initially these are easily lost. You start with 99 units of energy for each witch, and a life is lost when energy reaches zero. This is continually depleting, and is made worse when contact with a nasty occurs.

Taking off, landing, and picking up keys, accounts for a high percentage of deaths. Energy can be replenished, though, by sources of power which you must hover or stand in.

The graphics in Cauldron, although very Spectrumesque, are great. Backgrounds are detailed and very effective, as are the sprites. The moon hangs realistically in the night sky, and makes an impressive scene when the witch flies in front of it. Animation is terrific and colours are superbly used, giving some excellent 3D effects all round.

The sound isn't that impressive -- the opening music being fairly simple, albeit atmospheric, but some sound effects are put to good use.

The instructions given are simple but adequate, and are printed in rhyme on a 'parchment' in the inlay. GP.

Structure of the planet

At last, arcade adventures are making an important and long overdue appearance on a worthy machine (who needs a Spectrum now?).

Cauldron has an interesting structure with the action dividing into two types: flying above the smooth-scrolling surface of a large planet and leaping around the platforms (rock ledges) under the surface. The two are connected by five doors on the planet surface.

The planet surface consists of forests, plants, volcanoes, and areas of sea. If you keep flying, you eventually return to your starting place the planet is round! and Palace say the total length of the planet surface is some 120 screen widths.

Below ground there are 64 screens divided into four separate platform-filled caverns, in which pits of red hot lava bubbles convincingly and stalactites hang menacingly. There's certainly plenty to explore.

The text of this review was taken with Dimitris Kiminas' permission from the Gamebase64 site, where a fully htmlized version of it exists.

This review was typed in/OCRed by Dimitris

ZzapBack Logo by Biggest Jim
In the spirit of ZzapBack, you can have your say about how the game reviewed above, stands up in the cold light of today. Has it aged badly or is it still worth a few plays? Read other peoples thoughts and post your own.

The current ZzapBack rating is : 67%

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TENDER_SLOP - 9 May 2009
O.o "hags"?

anyways, funny game

Rating : 77%
akim70 - 17 May 2007
Peter, how did you manage to complete that game? I tried several times but I was so far to the end...

Rating : 100%
Peter - 29 Jan 2007
Absolutely friggin loved the game, played it when I was about 10 years old and I completed it, so it isn't that hard just took alot of practice and you had that at that age:) Now take Cauldron II, that to me was an incompletable game, I came far in this game but never finished it:(

Rating : 95%
zhane - 12 May 2005
the game was perfect

Rating : 100%
Chriss - 29 Apr 2005
I actually was quite good in the game! But it needs a lot of tedious practising and there is no shortcuts to achievement!

Back in the old days the programmers were testers themselves and as they played the game a lot! during the programming stages they got better and better in it and didn't understand this fact when fine tuning the difficulty of the game! Nowadays all games are suitable to above average gameplayer.

I guess that there was no reason to stick to just one game back in the old days if you had 100's of cracked games, but this game is definetly worth the effort! (I paid sweet money for the original and it definetly was worth every penny).

Rating : 77%
CraigGrannell - 20 Apr 2005
Good grief, this is a difficult game. And what a shame this is, too, because it otherwise manages to marry Defender and platform-hopping, encasing everything in a moody atmosphere. The graphics and sound are great, but hookability should come way, way down to the low 50s. Lastability is a bit over the top, too, although those that can deal with the difficulty level will undoubtedly find Cauldron a decent game and a good challenge. It's all just a bit too much for me!

Rating : 55%
Rebel - 24 Mar 2005
Harder than a diamond encased in a steel case with rocks all over it. This game is as hard as nails, and doesn't give much scope for playability. A real shame.

Rating : 35%
Rick - 10 Jul 2004
A good game, well designed, well executed, good-looking, pleasing on the ears... A masterpiece of creative programming. All horribly let-down by being far too hard. Shame.

Rating : 35%
f0zz - 20 Apr 2004
The music used to haunt my dreams, or rather nightmares as I plunged once again into the bubbling lava (for the want of a pixel, the leap was lost....) It was excruciatingly unforgiving, and didn't help that you couldn't see your feet!

Rating : 55%
Ant - 6 Dec 2003
Yeeeaaaarrrgghhh! Cauldron bubbles over (haha!) with great presentation but is crippled by the hellish difficulty level. I want to love this game (and I do still fire it up every so often) but even I'm not that much of a masochist.

Rating : 49%
SLF - 5 Dec 2003
This has to be the biggest letdown in c64 games history. Well, at least for my tastes. It has everything a game should have for me to love it: great concept, fabulous creepy atmosphere, engrossing plot, very nice graphics (for the time, and they still appeal me a lot: look at those ghosts, or the hag flying), two different types of game perfectly combined... Trouble is, it's about 50 times harder than it should have been, so that it's so frustrating it's nearly unplayable. Either the reviewers (these and the ones of the budget re-review)were aliens at playing games (Jaz actually was, I know) or they didn't play through the game properly... I'm not that skill-less but I couldn't even imagine to complete half the game... What a shame.
pr 90 gr 84 so 73 ho 83 la 40

Rating : 59%
Julian Rignall
At last a great arcade-adventure so we 64 owners can boast our own against the Speccy crowd. Large and enjoyable playing area, with some original touches to keep zappers happy as well as adventurers. Plenty of original creatures which are graphically excellent. I initially had problems with the witch's control, but perseverance has its reward. Don't play it after midnight!
Bob Wade
This marvellous cross between Defender and a platform game should be a winner for Palace. It combines excellent playability, both above and below ground, with plenty of difficulty. The scrolling landscape is wonderful, as are the monsters, but watch out for those keys in the trees particularly the green one, it's almost invisible. Below ground the action doesn't let up and either section would qualify as a decent game in its own right. Together they're great.
Gary Penn
Cauldron certainly has a large playing area and will take some time to complete. Obtaining the ingredients and utilising them correctly is fairly difficult. Mapping isn't really worth doing above ground but below it comes in useful, as you need to know what's coming when you enter another screen. Definitely an enjoyable challenge to novice and proficient arcade adventurer alike.
Nothing notable except some intriguing poems.

Not many arcade-adventures like this on the 64.

Small but colourful, detailed and well animated.

The urge to explore is very strong.

[sic This was blank in the original]

Stacks of locations, tough long-term challenge.

An excellent combination of zapping, leaping and exploring.